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Not exactly robust, a 'recovery' seems likely

Business is getting better — even if not full of energy, and questionable in terms of sustainability.

But decorative fabrics suppliers are increasingly upbeat about some or all of their distribution channels in terms of sales recovery.

"Retail and over-the-counter is okay, and jobber business is better," said Jim Richman, president of Richloom Fabric Group. And furniture, which had been in the doldrums "is showing some life," he noted.

For Dale Williams, president of Waverly Lifestyle Group, "Our business is holding up. It's not robust yet."

Retailers, he explained, "are relatively stable in terms of replenishment and future forecasts, so there is no sense of unease."

Looking to 2004 Williams said, "We are planning a bit of an uptick for spring. We don't see people running for the exits."

Specific customer programs are spurring an upturn in business for Chris Stone, said Mark Aizawa, president. The company has been developing programs tailored to the needs of specific retailers across all home lines — home textiles to furniture. "Sales and back orders are well up."

"It's improving gradually. And we feel pretty confident about the balance of this year and into 2004," is the view of Larry Liebenow, president and ceo of Quaker. "Overall, it's been up and down."

Among the various distribution channels, Liebenow sees "contract as looking super, but it's new for us so we're taking market share. Jobber business is good, and manufactured products and top of the bed are up, but not much of a change."

In an interesting juxtaposition, Valdese Weavers "is going after a price point a notch lower than before, but our average price per yard sale is going up," said Mike Shelton, president.

"We've had four good months in a row, but my crystal ball is foggy and there's not many customers bragging about business, though they seem optimistic," he said

The December pre-shopping at the mill, prior to next month's Showtime has been strong across all channels, and many patterns have been taken off sale for specific markets. "Furniture is great, contract is ahead and home textiles is good but slower," Shelton remarked.

At Craftex, business is getting stronger, said Jack Eger, vp. "We have a strong bedding business, jobber business is good and for the first time in four seasons furniture repeat business from samples, then orders of good."

Moving into high performance fabrics with the jobber channel as the major target has been a strong asset for Sunbury. Bringing in Sunbrella, Microban and Crypton has influenced a lot of furniture customers as well, according to Rocco Simone, senior vp. Overall,` he said "business is very good."

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